It’s Not BBM, Twitter or Facebook. Stop Blaming the Tools!

Mass media is recently blaming social networks in general, and Blackberry Messenger in particular, for the London riots. Now the British Government is talking about shutting down social networks when necessary. And I can’t believe how naive all of this is.

Evil Blackberry

It seems very plausible that BBM, Twitter or Facebook were some of the tools used by rioters to spread their message, but it seems unrealistic to believe that shutting down these services is going to stop criminal activity. Not to mention the consequences this would have on its everyday legitimate use. Today there are hundreds of tools that allow us to communicate with huge groups of people at almost zero cost, so if BBM –or any other service– isn’t available, people will switch to another one. The root of the problem is the people, not the tools used by the people.

I understand, however, that all of these new ways of communicating present a big challenge for police forces around the globe. But they’ll have to adapt. A couple of decades ago their only concern was tapping phones: it required a small number of companies because all the information of a given suspect would go through a single path. Nowadays trying to get into all the networks of a user’s daily interaction is almost impossible. I’m not an engineer and maybe different tools can be tapped at the same time, but I think about all the tools I use and feel sorry for the officer in charge if I’m ever under surveillance: fixed and mobile phones, VOIP, email, IMs, social networks…

The good news for law enforcement agencies is that most of these new tools can be traced afterwards. Most require written communication, and that leaves a trace. It will probably be time consuming, but with the right tools I guess everything can be recovered. In fact I’ve read that Blackberry is already working with the police to track suspects.

This may be controversial, but a few days ago news were all about iPhone and maybe Android. Today Blackberry is back in the market! I’d kill to get info on the sales data per day to see if all this had any impact. Many people say their image has been damaged. I’m not so sure about it.


Posted: August 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General | Tags: , , , , | 5,850 Comments »

Bookaholism and Kindle Singles

My name is Fernando and I’m a bookaholic.

I started impulsively buying books a long time ago. When I was 16 and backpacked around Europe, I bought books. They were a bad idea because I had to carry them with me for the rest of the travel, but I could not resist the temptation. Since then it has gone worse. Soon after that came the internet… and Amazon. I live in Spain, but as soon as I heard about Amazon I was hooked. I ordered books quite early and paid the extra shipment costs. Being able to wander around in such an amazing collection of books was magic.

Kindle made things even worse. At least with physical books you had to choose between a short collection with instant gratification –book store– and infinite collection with delayed gratification –Amazon–. With ebooks you get the best of both worlds. I even love the format. Hundreds of books in a small device, highlighting without damaging the book, having your notes in a central repository, multiple ways to access… And they are even cheaper most of the times! It’s paradise.

The bad things about bookaholism aren’t the direct consequences of the addiction. What’s the worse that can happen? Knowing too much about noodles? (yeah, I once bought a few books about that). The worse is the guilt and anxiety that comes with every pile of unread books, be them physical or a file somewhere.

But not everything is lost. Less than a year ago Amazon launched a new format/collection that lets me indulge in the impulse buying of books AND allows me to keep up with my reading. Almost. Enter the Kindle Singles. They are just short books, nothing really new. The great thing is that there are selected and there are a few really good ones. Some are so short that could almost be inside a magazine, but they are books. Fellow bookaholics know that magazines can’t compare to a book! And being liberated of the obligation to develop a full book, with at least a couple hundred pages, the authors write more to the point. I’m having a great time.

Kindle Singles won’t cure me. I still buy full books and my unreads list is huge, but they let me finish more books and explore more subjects, which is great. I have only read non-fiction ones because my fiction quota is still filled with a few unfinished classic science fiction sagas I want to conquer someday. But I’m sure that there are great stories being told in this format and that more will come.

Obviously, I can only finish with some recommendations:

Homo Evolutis by Steve Gullans and Juan Enriquez. Published by TED Books. Loved it! The authors expose their arguments to defend the hypothesis that humans are experiencing speciaton, the development of a new hominid. Authors promise to turn this into a new book. If only I could preorder it!

Lifted by Evan Ratliff. A must read for every thief stories aficionado. A money wharehouse in Sweden is assaulted and police investigates. It’s a real story happened in 2009.

Lost in Kandahar by Alex Berenson. War chronicle by a journalist with the troops in Afghanistan. Very interesting and well documented.


Posted: August 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bookaholic | Tags: , , | 9,939 Comments »

Betrayed by the Cloud. Turntable.fm Took MY Lists Away

Turntable.fm

 

I’m a big defender of apps and information in the cloud. So much that when I created my company we used Salesforce.com much before it was logical/practical because I loved so much the concept. And I have photos in flickr that I have nowhere else. And I get to all my email accounts through their web interface. And I mostly listen to streamed music. You get the concept.

 A few weeks ago I discovered Turntable.fm and I was hooked. For those who don’t know or can’t access it, it’s a website to share your passion for music. In it you can create rooms to listen music and then you can be a DJ or just a listener. And there is a lot of interaction among users (votes, chat, follows). It’s addictive. One of the features I loved was the ability to add any song I was listening to my queue of music so I could play it in any other moment when DJing. I found many great songs and kept them.

But then, a couple weeks ago, they closed the service for all non-US users. They said they had some licensing problem. Suddenly, all those new songs were out of my reach. It was not only the music itself, which I can get in other places, it was the names of the songs/artists that I couldn’t remember. I had been using the service just for a few days and the damage was not that bad, but it made me think about the reliability of the cloud.

I had read about users losing information on many services on the internet, but it had never happened to me before. It can happen because the service makes a mistake and lose your information, changes its conditions or even disappears. Not all cases are equally severe, but they are all inconvenient. I still prefer to have my information away and accessible from anywhere, but in the future I’m gonna be more careful with which services I trust. Or maybe –likely– I’m just pissed off now and will forget soon.

By the way, last week I was in the US, so I could go into the service and recover the names of the songs. They are now stored safely in a txt file in my hard drive and I will look for the mp3 files when I have time. That list is also somewhere in the cloud because I still love Dropbox. Isn’t that a nice paradox?


Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Internet and Technology | Tags: , | 8,310 Comments »

An Idea to Stabilize Oil Prices by Juan Enriquez

Just watched a Juan Enriquez talk at TED. It’s a bit old, from 2007, but the good thing about great talks is that they keep making sense after being given.

Most of the presentation is about making a transition in how we deal with energy. He says we have to start applying biology to energy, just like it was done in agriculture in the 20th century. The terms he uses is going from brute force to biology. If we truly understand what happens with our energy sources we’ll be able to do things better. All this is very interesting and you should watch the video.

But the thing that most caught my attention is his final thought. He shows a graphic of oil prices, with all it’s ups and downs, and explains that that instability makes it impossible to look for new energy sources/procedures because when the price goes down the companies researching go out of business. Then the price goes up again.

He proposes a tax on oil in the US. It would set a minimum price per barrel of oil. If the price goes below that level, the difference is taxed. If it goes over that minimum, the tax disappears. This would give some certainties to companies researching because if they can produce energy below that cost limit, they have a business.

I usually don’t like taxes to solve problems because I think that they create new problems. Although I don’t agree, I must admit that he’s got me thinking.


Posted: June 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Economy and Business | Tags: , | 4,697 Comments »

Giving Digital Goods Needs to Get Easier

Photo triplezero on Flickr

Today I read about Evernote launching sponsored premium accounts. Basically it’s a way to pay for the account of another person without getting any control of it. And I think it’s great. Sometimes I would love that others used some service or app I use but they don’t want to pay or they should have to. And in some of those cases I would gladly pay for them because the utility I get of them using that app is greater than the cost. It’s like a business paying for the mobile phone of an employee. It’s done because it’s useful for the company.

 

The amount of money we spend on digital goods is increasing everyday, but we can’t give digital things to others in many occasions. I can buy a digital flower for my girlfriend on Facebook, but I can’t buy an app for her iPhone. Companies need to separate the digital good from the payment in order to facilitate this. Some have already done it, like Evernote today or Flickr (they have offered the chance to pay for an account as a gift since a lot of time ago), but I think that we’ll see much more on this in the near future.


Posted: December 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Internet and Technology | Tags: | 8,293 Comments »

A Rant About Spanish Airports

I woke up 36 hours ago a few thousand miles away from my house in Madrid, where I just arrived. I should go to sleep, but I have to write this rant.

In the past hours I flew from Boston to Barcelona via Philadelphia, and a couple hours ago from Barcelona to Madrid. The reason for that itinerary is that I had to do some business in Barcelona, so I decided to fly there from Phily instead of coming directly to Madrid. And this odd journey has made me seen the huge differences between American and Spanish airports. I had thought on writing this post some time ago, but only today, quite pissed off, I finally do it.

Firstly I must say that I travel a lot. In the last twelve months I’ve been to the US 8 or 9 times and flown around Spain and Europe a few dozen times, so I think I know what I’m talking about. I understand that all airports have a P&L account and their owners are free to manage them as they feel more adequate. But in Spain I lately find that the way the owners choose is always terrible for the traveler. And this is completely incomprehensible for me considering that in Spain all the big airports are publicly owned, and tourism is Spain’s biggest industry. We should be taking care of travelers, not making their journey miserable. I think that the problem is that they are public and not used to compete, but I’ll limit to describe the experiences and leave further analysis for another day.

Yesterday I did a stop in Philadelphia for a couple of hours, and the experience, as in previous occasions, was as good as you can expect in an airport. I had a good and reasonably priced dinner: a huge plate full of shrimp in an spicy sauce, fries (I know, weird combination, I can’t defend myself) and a drink which was refilled several times. All for around $17 (around 13€). After that I sat in a rocking chair (yes, a rocking chair, how cool is that?) near an electric plug and charged my laptop while I worked for a while. This time I didn’t connect to the internet, but in many occasions I’ve done so, and most of them I could enjoy it for free.
P3070919
About 20 hours later, in Barcelona, my experience has been completely different. I wanted to have dinner, but I didn’t have much time, so I bought a small yogurt and a tiny blueberry juice… and I was charged 9.40€ (more than $12)… for a yogurt and a juice! The prices were there in a small card, but I didn’t look before opening them, my fault. Then I’ve gone to the boarding gate and searched for and electric plug. There were some available, but all them were carefully situated away from any place where I could sit. So I had to sit in the floor, as others were doing, to be able to recharge my laptop for a few minutes. Finally, I tried to connect to the internet, but the prices were ridiculous and I decided to wait until getting home: 4€ (more than $5) for 30 minutes… there was also an option for 15 minutes for free, but they requested so much information that I preferred not to use it (name, email, mobile telephone number, date of birth…). And I know that in Madrid, the airport that I use most, things are similar. Several times I’ve paid high prices for bad food, sit on the floor or been ripped off with the wifi prices.
P4291259

Oh, I almost forgot, when we arrived to Madrid, almost an hour late, they didn’t park the plane in a gate, they left us away from the terminal and moved us there in a bus. And they put the luggage in the wrong belt.

Who understands its customer better? Guess where I will prefer to make a stop if I have to choose?


Posted: April 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Travel and Places | Tags: , | 6,035 Comments »

Amazon Needs To Move The Kindle To A Subscription Model To Save It From The iPad

Kindle_and_ipad

A few hours ago I read Paul Carr’s column on Techcrunch about how the iPad will kill the Kindle. His thesis is that it will kill it, but not because it is a better ebook reader, which he says it’s not due to the Kindle’s e-ink, but because it will kill casual reading. He says that with a Kindle you have so many funny things to do that you’ll just no be able to concentrate on reading.

I don’t agree with everything he says in his column, but I agree with the main thesis. If Amazon keeps trying to sell the Kindle at its current price ($259 for the Kindle and $489 for the Kindle DX , Amazon affiliate links) it can’t compete with the iPad, which range from $499 to $829 but can do much more things and is trendier.

However, Amazon has an advantage: their core business here is selling ebooks, not Kindles, so they should not compete directly with the iPad. I’ve read several times lately that Amazon was trying to figure the numbers to give Kindles for free so people would buy more ebooks when they tried it. They have even tried this approach and given away a few Kindles. The problem with this approach is that you can make mistakes and give Kindles to people who won’t use them and won’t buy ebooks. And I don’t know the cost of the Kindle, but it can’t be as low as to allow this kind of mistakes.

This is where the subscription model can save the Kindle. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who buys or thinks in buying a Kindle is an avid reader. And avid readers buy a lot of books. So sell everything together. Instead of selling the Kindle and then the ebooks, give me a Kindle if I buy a subscription. They can even make tiers: if you buy x ebooks a month for two years we give you the Kindle for free, or if you just want to compromise to x ebooks in the first year you have to pay x amount (reduced) for the Kindle. I understand that this approach is not easy to implement (it’s not easy to enforce, you need credit checks or deposits…) and it’s not easy to sell. But selling Kindles is not gonna be easy anymore anyway. With this model the Kindle can’t be compared directly to the iPad on price. And Amazon would be selling reading, not a reader.

And regarding the use, I would not be worried I were Amazon. If you give people cheap Kindles they will use them. The iPad may be great, but with its price is not for everyone yet. Even if people prefer to read in the iPad, it would not be a problem for Amazon, they have already sold the subscription, so they should not care a lot if people read those ebooks on the Kindle or on the Kindle App for the iPad.


Posted: April 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Internet and Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5,564 Comments »

Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus… or Turn Off TV! Now!

I had not heard about this guy before. I found this video in Seth Godin’s blog. But I agree so much with him that I have to share this video.

He talks about media and how it’s changing a lot, but the keypoint for me is when he addresses how much time we spend watching TV and all the things we could do with that time. One example: with the time spent on watching TV in the US in a year you could produce two thousand Wikipedias.


Posted: March 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: General | Tags: , | 10,136 Comments »

You Can’t Claim an Inactive Twitter User Name Anymore

A couple of days ago I commented on Forrest W. Kobayashi post about Twitter names. I said that I had successfully claimed an inactive user name (@fernando) and said I’d search for the info on the process and post about it because the author thought it was not possible.

And it turns out that he was right. When I got my user name changed (January 09) it was possible to ask Twitter for a name which was inactive (nine months without any activity), but later they decided that they would not do it anymore. I suppose that it was too much work and they just gave up, so I was quite lucky!

This is the original post in Get Satisfaction in which a Twitter employee outlined the process you had to follow to claim an inactive user name.

And here you can see that the don’t do it anymore.

Just as a last check, I tried to change the user name in another account I own, and in a few minutes I received an email in which Twitter said that they don’t do this anymore. You can see below the email I received in January 09 and the email I’ve just received. Only in a few cases they only will make this kind of changes:

If your user name request concerns impersonation, trademark infringement, brand squatting, copyright, or another Terms of Service violation


Posted: December 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Internet and Technology | Tags: , , | 13,666 Comments »

Dropbox, Evernote and Gmail Saved my Holidays

Dropboxevernotegmail

Shit happens. And it usually happens in the worst moment (that’s why they call it shit). On the night before Thanksgiving, 3,500 miles away from home, my laptop charger died when I only had 23 minutes of battery left. A couple of years ago it would have been a tragedy, but not now, thanks to three wonderful apps I feel I need to mention:

  • Dropbox. It syncs all your files between as many computers you want and it also keeps a copy at their website. And it all happens automatically: everything inside the folder My Dropbox gets synced. And if you are not in any of your computers you can log in to their website and find all your archives waiting for you. There is a free version that gives you 2GB; or you can pay, 9.99$/month for 50GB or 19.99$/month for 100GB. I know the price may seem a little high, but for me it’s a no-brainer. Automatic and almost real time backup deserves some investment.
  • Evernote. Harder to explain, but also great. It’s a huge notebook in which you can throw anything you want: text, links, photos, files, audio… There are desktop, mobile and online versions. And all them sync automatically, so you can access your information wherever you are. Everything is searchable, even text inside photos. It has some features to collaborate and share with others, but it still has a lot of work to do in that area. There is a free version that limits your monthly uploads to 40MB and takes out some functionality. The paid version is 5$/month and it gives you 500MB of monthly uploads. In this case I go with the free version because I use it basically for text notes and links. If it had a better Blackberry version I would probably use it more with photos or voice memos and I would pay. I’ve been told that their iPhone app is great.
  • Gmail. I’m not gonna describe it because everybody knows it. I use standard Gmail and also Google Apps. Since it works offline, I haven’t used Thunderbird in months.

As I needed to work for a few hours I just borrowed another laptop and did what I had to. And a couple a days later, in the middle of Black Friday craze, I bought a new charger and the crisis was over.

Many people say they don’t like their info being on the cloud. I say I don’t like my info not being accessible to me always and everywhere. These three have some common characteristics that make them wonderful:

  • Hassle free. Everything happens automatically
  • Local copy. I travel a lot and I don’t always have connection to the internet, so this is a must
  • Online version. Because sometimes I need to work for a computer which is not mine

Do you use any other app that makes your work easier/safer when switching between computers?


Posted: November 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Internet and Technology | Tags: , , , , , | 6,633 Comments »